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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The German Mujahid
(An Unfinished Business)

Boualem Sansal

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To purchase The German Mujahid

Title: The German Mujahid
Author: Boualem Sansal
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 230 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The German Mujahid - US
An Unfinished Business - UK
The German Mujahid - Canada
Le village de l'Allemand - Canada
Le village de l'Allemand - France
Das Dorf des Deutschen - Deutschland
Il villaggio del tedesco - Italia
La aldea del alemán - España
  • French title: Le village de l'Allemand
  • US title: The German Mujahid
  • UK title: An Unfinished Business
  • Translated by Frank Wynne

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Our Assessment:

B : struggles a bit with the voice(s) -- and forces his 'message'

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 24/1/2008 Joseph Hanimann
The Guardian . 13/10/2010 Maya Jaggi
The Independent . 22/1/2010 Aamer Hussein
NZZ . 4/8/2009 Claudia Kramatschek

  From the Reviews:
  • "Das Dorf des Deutschen ist nicht Sansals bestes, aber zweifellos ein wichtiges Buch." - Joseph Hanimann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "The contrasting diary styles are well captured in Frank Wynne's translation. (...) Sansal's concern is less with understanding the Holocaust as the other side's narrative than with absorbing its universal meaning to prevent recurrence in another guise." - Maya Jaggi, The Guardian

  • "The novel's most significant failure is, perhaps, its inability to make Malrich much more than a disaffected mouthpiece for a generation of French Muslims, ill at ease in the place they occupy between racism and religious extremism. Ultimately, at the end of this work of diminishing returns, we are left with little more than a vague, nightmarish vision of Europe in the hands of religious extremists." - Aamer Hussein, The Independent

  • "Sansal zieht somit einen so brisanten wie gewagten Bogen von der jüngeren Geschichte bis in die unmittelbare Gegenwart hinein, und das anhand von beunruhigenden Fakten. Denn er kratzt nicht nur am nationalen Mythos des algerischen Unabhängigkeitskampfes, sondern verweist zugleich auf das politisch gewollte Halb- oder Nichtwissen der arabischen Länder über die Realität der Shoah." - Claudia Kramatschek, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The German Mujahid (published in the UK as An Unfinished Business) is narrated by Malrich Schiller. In his late teens, he is the son of an Algerian woman and German man who sent him to live with an uncle in Paris when he was eight; his brother, Rachel (yes, the name is a bit disorienting), fourteen years older, followed the same route when he was seven. Malrich's account is from 1996-1997, but also includes extensive excerpt from his brother's diary dating from 1994-1996.
       Malrich begins his account with his older brother's suicide. As he reads Rachel's diaries and follows his descent into the darkness that led him to this act he learns a terrible family secret -- one that Rachel was unable to deal with. Everything was set in motion exactly two years earlier, when their parents were among those massacred in the "god-forsaken village in the middle of nowhere called Aïn Deb" where they had settled. Algeria was in the throes of civil war at the time; Islamist fundamentalists are blamed (and they, in turn, blame the government).
       Rachel was a successful engineer, working for an important multi-national (while Malrich has been kicked out of school and does little but hang out with his friends in the bleak environment of the suburban housing estate). After his parents' death Rachel became increasingly obsessed with his family history -- and especially that of his father. As Malrich writes (or rather as Sansal has him state too obviously):

I realized that this whole thing, Rachel's story, my story, was all about Papa's past, I was going to have to live it for myself, follow the same path, ask myself the same questions and where my father and Rachel had failed, I had to try to survive.
       As Malrich learns from Rachel's diaries, and as Rachel learnt for himself, their father -- much respected in the village he has settled in, including for his service in the Algerian War of Independence that had earned him the title of Mujahid -- had also served in the German army during World War II and had been a dutiful and efficient Nazi whose tours of duty also took him to some of the most notorious concentration camps. Rachel looks for explanations that might excuse what his father did, but the more he digs, the more he sees there are no excuses. He can't live with the sins of his father: obsessed, he follows the route his father took, losing his wife and job along the way. Ultimately, the only thing he can do is commit suicide -- with head shaved and in the outfit of a concentration camp prisoner.
       Rachel also came to another conclusion:
He figured out that fundamentalist Islam and Nazism were kif-kif -- same old same old.
       And Malrich believes that what drove a despairing Rachel to suicide was the fear that, if no one stood up against the encroachment of Islamism -- as Germans had not stood up against Nazism as it slowly took over --, a similar catastrophe was inevitable. Meanwhile, before his very eyes Malrich sees this happening: the slow but steady spread of fanatical Islam in the housing estate, and the firm grip it quickly has.
       Sansal's material and approach are interesting, but the book is too obviously programmatic. Sansal has a message, and he rams it down the reader's throat; teenage Malrich's voice -- would-be hip French (which also loses something in translation) -- is also not a convincing one, which doesn't help matters. Although Sansal allows both brothers to present their own stories, neither character is fully developed or entirely convincing. In particular, the fact that both feel such guilt about the sins of a father they barely knew is not conveyed entirely believably.
       The artificiality of Sansal's fiction -- it is clearly a story that is tailored to the outlines of the argument he wishes to present -- is not done well enough to make for a truly satisfying novel. There are interesting ideas here, but with so much stuffed into it almost everything about the novel feels underdeveloped.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 November 2009

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The German Mujahid: Reviews: Other books by Boualem Sansal under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       French-writing Algerian author Boualem Sansal was born in 1949.

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© 2009-2021 the complete review

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